Kernels look to halt Arrows in final regular-season road game
When facing No. 3 Watertown today, there is one player fifth-ranked Mitchell must stop.
“We’ve got to wrap up No. 40, definitely,” Kernel senior linebacker Preston Skinner said at Wednesday’s football practice. “We’ve got to get him on the first hit and have that first guy take him down, and everybody’s going to be right there behind him.”
Watertown senior running back Shay Bratland has led the way offensively for the Arrows (3-3, 2-2 ESD), carrying the ball 164 times for 824 yards and nine touchdowns. He averages just over 5 yards per carry.
“Their running back is just a tremendous football player and if we don’t get to him early, he’s going to create some big plays,” Mitchell head coach Kent VanOverschelde said, adding his team has focused on blocking and tackling this week in practice.
The Eastern South Dakota Conference football contest begins at 7 p.m. today in Watertown. This is Mitchell’s final road game of the regular season as it hosts school-rival Huron next week at Joe Quintal Field.
The Kernels’ leading tackler is junior defensive back Matt Larson, who has 58 tackles and averages 9.7 tackles per game. Mitchell (3-3, 2-2 ESD) has made seven fumble recoveries and six interceptions, with senior Chase Harms intercepting two for the Kernels. Senior defensive lineman Jon Jamison leads the team in sacks with three.
Watertown head coach Steve Svendsen said the key in the ESD matchup is controlling the ball. The Arrows have intercepted the ball three times and has seven fumble recoveries.
“For us, we’ve got to be able to not turn the ball over and give up the big plays,” said Svendsen, whose team is coming off a 29-20 victory over Class 11AAA’s Sioux Falls O’Gorman. “We put a complete game of football together last week and we’ve got to do the same.
“This is a big game and Mitchell has had an up and down year, but they are a dangerous team.”
Watertown senior quarterback Logan Gabriel, a two-year starter, has completed 34 percent of his passes, going 40-of-115 for 547 yards, three touchdowns and three interceptions. His top target is senior wide receiver Jess Poppen with 13 receptions for 179 yards and two touchdowns.
Poppen also leads the Arrows defensively with two interceptions, while seniors Trevor Jutting and Mitch Koehn lead in tackles.
VanOverschelde said his team has made adjustments on the offensive side of the ball this week.
“We’ve been able to carry out some of our offensive game plan, which involves throwing the football,” he said. “To go punch for punch with them is probably not going to be our best approach, so we’re going to continue to add diversity within our offense.”
Mitchell sophomore quarterback Kanin Nelson has thrown for 521 yards, four touchdowns and four interceptions on 41 of 94 passes for 44 percent. His go-to receivers are senior Ethan Jones with 13 receptions for 146 yards and one touchdown and Larson with five receptions for 136 yards and one score. Junior wide receiver Beau Brown, who has nine receptions for 138 yards and one touchdown, continues to be sidelined after suffering concussion-like symptoms after Mitchell’s third game of the season.
Mitchell’s running game has been held to 777 yards in six games, nearly 50 yards less than Bratland’s total.
Junior running back Mitch Johnson, who averages 3.82 yards per carry, leads the way with 99 carries for 378 yards and four touchdowns, while Nelson is the Kernels’ second-leading rusher with 68 carries for 178 yards and three touchdowns.
VanOverschelde said he’s looking for his team to rebound this week after suffering a close loss against Brookings last week.
“It was a tough loss just for the fact of the amount of effort and level of intensity that was brought, and there’s a letdown because you’re not successful,” he said, adding Tuesday’s practice was one of the best his team’s had all season. “There’s a lot of football left to play.”